Living with diabetes requires a new set of knowledge and discipline surrounding your diet and nutrition. Things that were healthy for you before may not interact the same way with your body anymore.
As a diabetic, it can be difficult to find safe and filling snacks. One thing many people turn to is protein shakes. But, what are the best protein drinks for diabetics? And, are protein drinks even safe for you?
In this article, we will be answering the five most commonly asked questions about protein drinks and diabetes, to help you find safe protein drinks for diabetics. We will do our best to provide up-to-date, research-based information on both type 1 and type 2 diabetes to help you understand your options.
5 commonly asked questions about protein drinks for diabetics:
1. Are protein drinks safe for diabetics?
Yes and no. There are some safe - and even beneficial - protein drinks for diabetics.
However, there are also many protein powders, drinks, and shakes that may also cause adverse effects on your health.
It is generally believed that even though the way our bodies process food changes when we have diabetes, non-diabetics and diabetics both have the same requirements for protein each day.
While protein seems to help people with diabetes in some ways, protein powders and protein drinks should not be viewed as a meal replacement. They should be integrated into your daily diet for the best nutritional results.
You should also strive to consume protein drinks that do not contain high levels of sugars, additives, or carbohydrates. If they contain carbohydrates, make sure to check whether they are refined or complete carbohydrates.
Refined carbohydrates interact just like sugars do when they enter our bodies. This can make them dangerous for diabetics.
However, carbs are a necessary part of our diet, especially when it comes to our cognitive functions. So, having whole-grain carbohydrates can be a really good thing in moderation.
2. Is too much protein bad for diabetics?
Too much protein is bad for anyone.
However, some studies have shown that higher protein levels, especially during meals, may help you control your blood glucose levels much more easily. (Of course, you must also manage the number of sugars and refined carbohydrates you consume at the same time.)
How protein interacts with our bodies will depend on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Since insulin is what metabolizes the food we eat, if you are unable to produce any insulin, you need to take insulin to control your blood sugars. With type 2 diabetes, the amount of insulin you produce will depend on a variety of factors like pancreas health, diet, and medication.
Your kidney health can also play a huge role in how much protein you can safely consume. If you have healthy kidneys, it is safe to say that you can get anywhere from 10-35% of your daily calories from protein sources.
A more important thing to focus on is where your protein is coming from.
Most protein sources still contain fats and carbohydrates, so you’ll need to evaluate how they might convert into glucose in your body.
It is also important to remember that not all fats are created equal either. For instance, saturated fats, commonly found in red meats and processed meats, pose a higher risk for diabetics than omega fats.
Saturated fats are the ones that can clog your arteries.
For healthy protein options for diabetics, the American Diabetes Association suggests some of these:
- Most beans/legumes (pinto, kidney, black beans, etc.)
- Hummus and falafel
- Tempeh and Tofu
- Nuts and nut spreads
- Fish and other seafood
- Collagen - such as with our Pro T Gold collagen protein supplements
3. How does protein affect diabetes?
When we eat protein, our bodies use insulin to metabolize it. So, to break down foods like red meats, or generally any processed food, our body needs more insulin to digest and process them.
Fortunately, unlike other foods, protein uses a relatively small amount of insulin and does not have a substantial impact on your blood glucose levels. Glucose and carbohydrates both require higher levels of insulin than protein, making protein as a whole a relatively weak insulin stimulant.
The amount of insulin needed to process and metabolize food will differ from person to person - and depend on if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Keep in mind that non-diabetics require less insulin to metabolize protein than diabetics will.
When you have type 1 diabetes, eating proteins is even more dependent on your overall glycemic control and your state of insulinization. This will vary from person to person but should be taken into account when trying to figure out how your body will react to protein consumption.
Protein alone does not seem to interact negatively with the blood glucose levels of diabetics. However, the amount of fat or carbohydrates in that protein source can increase the glycemic index scale.
4. Can a high-protein diet help with type 2 diabetes?
Although low-carb, high-protein diets are often looked at as the best options for patients with type 2 diabetes, it is important to remember that the high protein itself may not be what is helping you regulate your blood sugar levels.
To keep your blood glucose levels more stable, it’s best to increase the amount of healthy proteins and try to eliminate refined carbohydrates.
This approach to diet in diabetes is commonly seen in medical nutrition therapy.
However, it doesn’t work for everyone. While it seems that high protein diets see better results with type 2 diabetes control, patients with type 1 diabetes could actually see the opposite effects.
In some cases, eating high-fat, high-protein meals can cause type 1 diabetes patients to up their insulin dosage after eating. This example is why continued, and consistent, monitoring of your blood glucose levels is necessary, even if you aren’t eating that many carbohydrates or sugars.
5. What are the best ingredients in protein shakes for diabetics?
When it comes to snacking, and even quick meal options, sugars, fats, and refined carbohydrates are usually the most readily available.
Unfortunately, all of these things can send a shock to your system and spike your blood glucose level. As a diabetic, you may be tempted to turn to a protein shake for your quick fix instead.
One important thing to realize before you go out and buy a protein shake is that they are not all created equal.
Many packaged protein powders and supplements are packed with additives and loads of sugar. While those things aren’t good for anyone, they can be especially harmful when you have diabetes.
Here are a few of the most important things for diabetics to look for when trying to narrow down the search.
While you will still need to read the ingredients on a protein that claims to be hemp-based, if you buy a pure hemp protein powder, it will only have one ingredient: ground hemp seeds. Hemp is naturally low in carbohydrates but high in protein and healthy fats. This makes it a good, clean option for diabetics.
What’s even better is that hemp oil contains gamma-linoleic acid. This is an essential omega-6 fatty acid that can help improve blood glucose control and ease the pain of diabetic neuropathy.
Pea protein is a great option for anyone to enjoy, but it is especially amazing for diabetics. This is because peas have a very low glycemic index (22). They also are jam-packed with fiber, easing digestion by potentially smoothing out blood sugar levels.
One concern you may have is that peas contain carbohydrates.
While this is something to take into consideration, it is important to remember that our bodies still need carbohydrates to function, especially our brains.
So, while you may want to limit your carb intake to whole foods, like peas, cutting them out completely isn’t the safest or healthiest option.
Some of the many benefits of consuming peas include:
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Weight control (low in calories and fat)
- Low glycemic index (22)
- Essential and non-essential amino acids
Spirulina is a tiny alga that has been tested for use by patients with type 2 diabetes to control blood glycemia. It grows in both fresh and saltwater and is jam-packed with nutrients.
- Protein: 4 grams
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of the RDA
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of the RDA
- Copper: 21% of the RDA
- Iron: 11% of the RDA
- Carbohydrate: 1.7 grams
It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that you need.
Overall, spirulina is one of the most effective supplements and superfoods to invest in. For such a tiny amount of powder, you are getting more than just protein. Not only that, but it may help regulate blood sugar levels, making it an excellent option for diabetics.
The final protein on our list of safe protein drink ingredients for diabetics is collagen protein. The primary benefit of some collagen protein - such as our line of medical-grade protein supplements - is that they do not contain any sugars or carbohydrates; they are pure protein sources. This makes it easy for your body to absorb and digest with a low glycemic index.
Some of the other benefits of collagen include:
- No fat
- No cholesterol
- No carbs or sugars
- Key amino acids
- High in protein
As an added bonus, collagen also helps with bone health, joint pain, wrinkle reduction, and a whole slew of other things.
While there are many collagen supplements on the market, not all are the same or even the same type of collagen. They are likely processed differently and can have varying degrees of bioavailability.
One significant difference between hydrolyzed collagen protein, like ProT Gold Liquid Collagen Protein, and other collagen proteins on the market is that it is easy to digest.
Most forms of collagen contain molecules too big for our stomach to properly digest, but the nan-hydrolyzed collagen in ProT Gold allows you to quickly - and fully - digest the collagen protein so you can enjoy all its amazing benefits.
Plus, since it's already in liquid form, it's super easy to drink!
Is it safe for diabetics to drink protein shakes then?
Getting into the habit of reading labels and understanding how the foods that you eat interact with your body is important for everyone. When you have diabetes though, the level of importance is even higher.
To ensure you have a safe daily protein drink for diabetics, find one, such as Pro T Gold, that has little to no sugar (or sweeteners), no additives, and minimal carbohydrates. These types of protein shakes will likely be okay to drink as a person with diabetes.
As with any major dietary change, these decisions should be done in tandem with treatment prescribed by your doctor or in medical nutrition therapy.
Over time, you will slowly begin to understand how your body reacts to different food groups and specific ingredients. But, it’s definitely a learning process.
With a well-balanced and closely monitored diet, adding a healthy protein supplement or powder to your daily routine can be truly beneficial to your health.